The (Malay/Asian) Domestic Diva?

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Since I’ve graduated and left school (for now), my summer has been filled with…indoor activities. Being a homebody and a strong introvert, I have been filling my time at home – cross stitching, cooking, baking, cleaning. If I do go out, it’s usually to meet friends or to shop. I slowly feel myself turning into a domestic goddess – or can I?

Lena Chen, Chicktionary blogger, recently cross-posted a blog post from Racialious titled Who is the Black Zooey Deschanel?

“Some women want to believe that their predilection for rompers and kittens and baby voices reflects their individual personalities and not some trend toward retro, non-threatening femaleness. But no one chooses their choices in a vacuum and certainly it means something that so many women seem to be finding this super-girlish, childish part of their personalities at the same time, while Katy Perry’s sex and candy persona is tearing up the charts and actual little girls are being bombarded with pink, purple, princesses, tulle and sparkles…

… the persona that Klausner writes about is bound by class and race. The cult of domesticity defined idealized womanhood centuries ago–and that definition included both perpetual childhood and whiteness. The wide-eyed, girlish, take-care-of-me characters that Deschanel inhabits on film are not open to many women of color, particularly black women. We can be strong women, aggressive women, promiscuous women…we can do Bonet bohemian and Earth Mother (as Andrea pointed out), but never carefree and childish. Even black girls are too often viewed as worldly women and not innocents. Also, the affectations of the manic pixie are read differently on black women. A streak of pink in the hair goes from quirky and youthful to “ghetto” on a black body. Thrift store clothing leads to a host of class assumptions.”

Considering women who look like me are usually seen as “the help”, can I really claim to be (evolving into) a domestic goddess?

I’ve never really understood women who pay too much attention to their house. By this, I don’t mean my mother who cooks and cleans all day long in anticipation of a family gathering in a t-shirt and shorts, barefoot but to women who “entertain” for a living, who have matching home decor, who sit at home with makeup and dresses and heels and cook ‘non-smelly’ foods (think salad and baked chicken) for a dinner party. I must say, I’ve tried imagining myself like that, even wishing I had more matching home decor, or that I was more of a “Martha Stewart” hostess but I realize now I do not want and can not become like that.

I grew up watching the women in my life toil in the kitchen, entertain family and friends, worry about the stress of a clean house, maintain working electronics all while raising children and taking care of their husbands. There is no glamour in this type of work. Their hard work, their sweat and their blood, have been passed onto me. I do not clean in heels, dresses or makeup. I do not have someone to clean for me. When I bake, I sometimes mix up the wet and dry ingredients. I use tools that are not meant for baking, tools which are less than perfect. When I cook, I don’t follow recipes. My hands smell of garlic and ginger and onion after I’m done. My clothes smell like fish and my hair smells like chicken kurma.

Housework is not glamourous. It is hard work, usually done by women who typically go unrecognized and unpaid so that the men (or working-outside-of-the-home partner) in their lives can come home to a clean house and a hot meal with or without well-behaved kids. For most women of color, or for most women I grew up with, this is the life we are supposed to pursue. Pursuing higher education is ridiculous because we are literally meant to ‘end up in the kitchen’. So why bother? If I were to get a Master’s degree or a PhD and then decide to just stay at home and take care of my husband and children, I know I would face questions about my choice. In the world I grew up in, it is an either/or situation (even if it’s not meant to be that way). You either choose education and work OR you stay at home and take care of the house, husband and kids. There are limited support structures if you decide to be both a domestic diva and a career woman. Good luck with that.

For most of the women I grew up with, becoming a domestic diva is not a choice. It is an expectation. We cannot simply choose to become domestic divas because it is something we want to do. We are expected to do it. If we want something different, we have to fight for it in the face of disapproval from male and female friends and family members. And it is a long, tough fight – constantly having to explain why want such a lonely husband-less and/or childless life in the name of work and/or books.

The label “domestic diva” is only open to women of certain skin color and certain class. The rest of us are still fighting for the right to choose and to be respected and accepted for our choices.

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